addictive relationships


Can relationships be “addictive” in the same ways that alcohol or drugs can be?

Well, there are some important differences but there are indeed some striking similarities. Some of us know what it’s like to feel so attached to or dependent on a relationship with a person (friend, romantic partner or spouse) or an activity (gambling, eating, porn) that we can only describe it as “addicting”.

I’ve certainly had a few in my life. Some of the signs — can’t stop thinking about the “addictive” person or activity…find ourselves losing money or sleep or friends…continuing in the relationship despite other negative effects…thoughts or feelings of powerlessness over the relationship (“I just can’t leave her/him/it)…feeling crushed or like our life is over when the relationship is ended by another’s choice (our boyfriend breaks up with us; we run out of money and can’t gamble anymore; etc.).

Of course, there aren’t the same physical qualities inherent in gambling as there are in cocaine — there’s no actual substance that’s being ingested nor a direct alteration of our body chemistry. But there are clear links between attitude and emotion and our immune systems and hormones; repeated modifications to our internal mechanisms by virtue of regular indulging in certain feelings may indeed lead to a change in some internal “switches” so that we begin to resemble the substance-abusing addict regarding our dependency.

I recently began working with a new client who is holding onto the idea that somehow the lost friend and he can work it out even though they’ve had serious problems and agreed to end their romance; he keeps obsessing about what went wrong and how he can “get her back” (ie restart the relationship).

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, that old river in Egypt — denial. He’s engaging in the same kind of wishful thinking that an addict does when they tell themselves, “It can work out, I could just have a few drinks/puffs/lines/whatever and keep things under control.” The truth is, until he changes the roots of his low self-esteem and critical point of view about her, they’ll just fall back into the same old patterns again and again.

Is it hopeless? Does someone addicted to relationships have to avoid them forever? Of course not,,,a girl/boyfriend is not actually the thing we’re addicted to. It’s a way of relating, a co-dependent/dysfunctional patterned way of having a relationship that we’re dependent on and perhaps afraid to leave behind. The good news is that doing so gives us so many more options in who we play or partner with and how we do it!


Be well!

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~ by mjmmft on December 21, 2006.

One Response to “addictive relationships”

  1. Many things may evoke addictive type behaviors including food, sex, emotional dependency, gambling, shopping, etc. Though these addictive behaviors are not based on an external substance (with the exception of food), they can shift one’s physiological state and produce the experience of a rush, the experience of cravings, and the experience of withdrawal. For some people the cravings involved are as potent as the cravings for drugs and alcohol, and can lead to similar compulsive behaviors. For more on various addictions, click here.

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